Art not selling? Build a profitable arts practice with these tips

Little known ways to grow without sacrificing ethics for exposure

“Staying indoors and washing our hands will help us survive. Protecting the arts will help us live.”

I’m sick of hearing about it. Just as I’m sure you’re sick of reading about it. But as much as our lives have been turned upside down, as artists and creatives I believe we have one of the most important jobs in the world right now. 

There’s no better time to make good art. The world needs it. *You* need it.

After all, the arts connects us, and helps us make sense of the world. It allows us to channel our energy into something constructive and healing. Your art might be full of happiness or pain – but by sharing it, you’re spreading joy and encouraging empathy. 

I wouldn’t blame you though, if you’re feeling a little lost. On the days where you’re feeling stuck, it can be helpful to go back to basics, reevaluate and plan. 

So, while you might think this is just another blog “how to make your creative business survive coronavirus”, my intention is more to give you a way to come out the other end stronger, more confident and prepared (crisis or not). 

Read on to learn how to build a profitable arts practice so you can keep doing what you love.

Start Strong: Define your brand 

You’ve spent countless hours creating, experimenting, learning and refining your skills and now you’re finally seeing a body of work coming together that you’re proud of. That in itself is an achievement [go you!]. 

But there is *one* thing that successful arts practices have in common – and that’s a strong personal brand.

So, what is a “brand”. Yep, it’s a wanky marketing term, but it’s just a way to define how other people understand and relate to you and your work. It’s a summary of:

  • who you are as an artist
  • what you value and the recurring themes you explore 
  • what you stand for and the impact you want to make
  • how you create what you do,
  • the vibe and your personality of your business “aka you”, and
  • the way you communicate that with others (through your art, but also the language on your website, emails, socials and more).

These elements of your arts practice will form the foundations of everything you do. Once you’re clear on them, you’ll gain confidence in sharing your work, and clarity on your purpose and goals. 

You’ll also find the values and themes you hold dear will be meaningful to the buyers and collectors who’ll love what you do – it’ll mean something to them because they’ll *get* you. 

Step 1: Take some time to reflect on your brand and write them down. 

Review your vision and goals

Now you have a deeper understanding of your creative brand, you might find some of your previous goals weren’t a good fit for you. So, it’s time to review what you had planned and make changes.

Start by asking yourself what your vision for your arts practice is. 

  • What are you trying to accomplish? 
  • What impact do you want to have? 
  • What does your ideal world look like? 
  • How are you contributing to that world? 
  • What does success look like to you?

Now review your goals to see if your vision aligns with them, by completing these prompts:

My goal is to _______________________________________ because it will inspire people to (identify with/ understand/ feel)_____________________________________. This help me achieve my vision to _________________________________________.

You might also like to review your goals with our current circumstance in mind.

  • How has this pandemic changed the way you interact with fans?
  • Has it changed the way you deliver your work?
  • How will this affect the goals you make? Has it prepared you for the future?

Step 2: Review your vision and goals for your arts practice.

Review your business model

As artists, no matter whether we’re creating for collectors or commercial purposes, we’ve relied on businesses outside our own to help us deliver and promote our work. 

  • Galleries
  • Cafes, hotels and corporate spaces
  • Festival and events organisers
  • Pubs and clubs
  • Art directories like: BlueThumb, ArtLover and more
  • Social media, YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud and more

Now it’s become evident that by relying on them to help us run our businesses, we’re impacted by their ability to continue to operate as normal. Yes, we’re in exceptional circumstances right now, but what happens if the gallery who’s offered you representation goes into administration? What happens if a platform you’ve invested all your time and effort in, changes its algorithms (and takes away your reach)?

With this in mind, now you’ve reviewed your goals, it’s time to review how you deliver your work.

  • What changes will you need to make to survive if the organisation(s) you’re partnered with, cannot deliver as promised?
  • How will you deliver your work?
  • What changes will you make to the way you promote and share your work?
  • Will you need to have multiple streams of income? What will they look like?
  • If you can’t deliver your work in person, how will you take advantage of the digital tools available to you?

My hope is that one #silverlining to come from all this, is our ability to adapt and be resilient in times where the market changes. 

Step 3: Review how you deliver and promote your creative products and services.

Diversify your income so you’re not reliant on one thing

If I had all my income coming from one client, or one project, then I’m reliant on them in order to continue to earn money. The same thing happens when all your income or promotion is coming from one product, series or event. 

The best way to overcome this, is to create different ways to earn money simultaneously. Then, if something happens to one project, chances are you’ll still have some other money coming in. There are a few ways to do this.

Diversify your product/service offerings

Creating alternate ways of earning money doesn’t have to mean creating art you don’t like, or offering a service that doesn’t feel right for you. Now you’ve defined your brand values and vision, keep these in mind when you’re thinking about adding in new ways to earn income.

Diversify the way you promote your work

There are many online tools at your disposal to help you promote your work. When deciding on ways that you might reach your audience, it’s important to think about who that audience is, and where you find them online.

If you’ve been relying on other parties (galleries, events spaces/organisers) to help you promote your work, then you’re at the mercy of how they promote you.

Read more ideas on how to diversify your income, and learn to promote your work directly to your customer, remove the middleman and stay in control of your marketing.

Step 4: Review and decide on extra ways you earn money and promote your work.

Review your prices to make it more accessible

When you’re selling your art/music to people online you want to make it as easy as possible for them to buy. This means removing any possible barriers to purchasing.

Some common mistakes I see are:

  • Poorly designed website that is hard to navigate 
  • Confusing content or lack of useful information on how to buy, what your work means, how it’s created
  • Lack of available pricing online. “Price on application” is a big barrier to buyers
  • Not offering products/services at different price points for different budgets

Reduce the friction your buyer has to overcome and increase your sales by:

  • Getting help to review your website and restructure it
  • Getting help to review the website content and product descriptions
  • Adding indicative pricing on your flagship products/services 
  • Be open about how payment works (do you offer payment plans? An upfront fee to book, or payments broken up over the length of the project/commission?)
  • Offering a range of products/services with different price points (from smaller pieces to large commissions, or single songs to completely commissioned soundtracks)

You’ll note here I never said reduce your prices. While offering small discounts to regular customers or running the occasional sale can’t hurt, reducing all your prices can undermine how people value your work – which can have a negative affect on how much they’re willing to pay in the long term. 

Step 5: Review your pricing strategy and reduce barriers to purchase

Review and negotiate your business costs

Cash flow is essential to any business, right? And let’s face it, art supplies and recording equipment aren’t cheap! So, in quieter times it’s a good idea to review your expenses. If there’s a more cost effective way to create your work – it might be worth exploring.

Review the costs of your processes

When Logan artist, Omi Lee was accepted as artist in residence in Helsinki, Finland, she knew it was going to cost her a mint to ship over large pieces of art. So, she developed a whole series of work that would fit in a suitcase to save on shipping costs. 

The creativity and thought she put into this helped her develop her unique way of using acrylic paint as a textile – working in both 2D and 3D. What creative changes can you make to your process to keep costs down?

Renegotiate your supplier contracts

Once you’ve looked inwards, it’s time to look outside your business and review the contracts you have with your suppliers. 

Is there room to renegotiate your contract to reduce costs and deliverables, at least in the short term? Can you partner with a new supplier and offer them a product/service at a reduced cost for something you need in return? It can’t hurt to ask!

Step 6: Review your overheads and renegotiate supplier contracts

Small changes now can have a big impact later

It’s time to think a little differently and consider ways of working you hadn’t thought of before. After all, these small changes you make to your business now, lay the foundations for a more profitable arts practice into the future.

A word of warning: Resist comparing your business to your competitors and trying to copy them. Their brand vision and values might be different to yours, so look inwards and decide on your path first – before looking outwards to learn how to put that plan into action. 

I guarantee if you stay true to your brand, you’ll find something that suits *you* and brings you buyers, collectors and attracts attention from all the *right* people in your industry. 

I look forward to seeing you create something new, exciting that stands out and says HERE I AM. I AM ARTIST, HEAR ME ROAR!

Over to you

Have you done any of this work on your arts practice in the past? Or is this a new way of thinking about it? I’d love to know how you go with these steps, so please share.